The Success Story of Sheng Maobai
Sheng Maobai, the owner of the Shengning Store, is an old friend of mine. He has experienced vicissitudes of all kinds throughout his life; he spent five years in prison and after being rehabilitated, he returned to his former workplace. In the early 1990s, Sheng Maobai retired early from his previous employment in Daye County, Huangshi, a city in Central China’s Hubei Province, and then came to Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei, where he opened up the Shengning Store, a small painting and calligraphy shop. His business was engaged in collecting and selling paintings, which required the unique ability of collecting the right items and selling them at the right price. I was a frequent visitor to his shop. Once, after a full meal, I had the pleasure of hearing some of his stories about collecting paintings. I have included a few of my favorites below.
A Wooden Scroll Painting One morning when he was walking to the flea market near Yintong, someone behind him called out, “Excuse me!” He withdrew to the roadside to give way, and a junkman with a ragged load on his shoulders passed by. As he brushed past, Sheng Maobai was poked by a hard object. When he looked closer, he found a wooden scroll painting lying in the man’s ragged basket.
He hastily stopped the junkman, saying he wanted to have a look at the scroll.
The junkman set down his load on the roadside and said, “This is to be delivered to the waste collection station. Have a quick look and see what you want.”
Sheng Maobai opened the scroll and recognized Zhao Hechou’s painting of wisteria and starlings on a full six- chi (about 6.6 foot) paper scroll. The picture was vivid and vibrant with bursting old vines, thousands of flowers in subtly different shades of purple, and more than ten striking starlings on it.
Zhao Hechou was born in Huanggang, Hubei Province, next to Huangshi. In his early years he had learned from Xu Beihong in Beiping Art College. After a little bargaining, Sheng Maobai bought the scroll for 30 yuan. Since he only had a 50-yuan bill with him, he gave it all to the junkman, who was overjoyed since he’d only spent 5 yuan on buying the scroll and had now sold it for ten times that. Sheng Maobai also gave him a business card, telling the man
赵合俦是湖北黄冈人，早年肄业于北平艺专的徐悲鸿门下。经过简单讨价还价之后，盛茂柏 30 元人民币买下了这轴画。因随身只带 了一张 50元的钞票，他全部给了拾荒者。5块钱买的东西，一下子翻了十倍，拾荒者接过钱，感激不尽。盛茂柏给他一张名片，让拾荒者收到画后先卖给他。
盛茂柏给了他六万块钱，成交。 红酸枝木箱子 一个夏天的傍晚，吃过晚饭，
一周后，盛茂柏将一幅八尺水墨虎画，按物主所留地址送去。物主看了盛茂柏画的五只虎，赞不绝口地说：“五虎五福，好，好。我一张破画换了你这么大一幅新画，我赚了。”盛茂柏说：“我也赚了。” （摘自《黄河文学》2018 年第 3 期）
赵合俦画作 Painting by Zhao Hechou (1902-1982, traditional Chinese painter)
郭沫若及其书法作品 Guo Moruo (1892-1978, Chinese author, poet, historian, and archaeologist) and his calligraphy
任伯年画作 Painting by Ren Bonian (1840-1896, painter born in Zhejiang Province, noted for his bold brushstrokes and use of color)